No video sign
No video sign by scalino on Flickr

Lecture Capture – Sometimes it’s better to be heard…and not seen

In my work as an educational technologist in Higher Education (and with academic/teaching experience in HE) I am more frequently receiving queries and requests from teaching staff who want to make a video of their lecture so it can be available to their students on their module site in the institutional VLE. A request to which I respond with the following (or thereabouts) for them to consider:

  • Before embarking on the creation of a video of your lecture or presentation to be used as a learning object, it is important that you consider if there is a ‘pedagogic’ necessity to create this type of resource?
  • Is the knowledge content of the lecture such that a video of you presenting it makes it more likely that students will be able to understand it/apply it or do whatever it is that they are required to do with it in order to achieve the learning outcomes?
  • Does your visible presentation style (how you comport yourself as you present your lecture) increase the potential for students to achieve the required learning outcomes for this particular session?
  • In general – is this method of re-presenting your lecture imperative to the learning requirements and outcomes for the session? Are the students going to learn more from engaging with this learning object if they can see you in it?

If your answer is NO to the above, then you may well be better creating an ‘audio’ recording of your talk and supporting this with slides/images from your presentation.

I have come across many examples of lecture videos wherein it would have been so much better not to be able to see the presenter, where a slideshow with voice-over would have been a more effective approach. The fundamental issue here is not one of visual quality – it’s not such a big deal if the video camera has been setup with a bit of a lean to it, or there are some tatty posters hanging on the walls behind the presenter – sure, these factors can lend an air of ‘quality’ to the presentation (and may be of concern to the marketing dept. if the content is potentially accessible to an ‘external’ audience) – but ‘all that glitters is not pedagogic gold’. What is key is the ‘content’ that is being presented, and how it is articulated for the most effective pedagogic ends via this particular medium of presentation.

Sometimes it is better to be heard…and not seen.

This post touches on some broader issues concerning the notions of ‘technology driven education’ vs. ‘education driven technology’.

The increased desire for academic teaching staff in HE (and perhaps in other education sectors) to engage with technology for teaching and learning is in principal good news, as enhancing learning through technology (ELT) offers some exciting spaces in which education can undergo innovation and evolution and allow us to explore and establish new educational models. However, the demand for creating technology enhanced learning ‘things’ is not always based on a robust pedagogic imperative but can tend towards that of using technology for technology’s sake. There is a danger that if we do not confront the use of technology in education with a critical pedagogic eye at the point of local inception (that is when we as individual educators decide that we want to use a specific technology or technologies for teaching and enhancing student learning) we may simply establish practices in which our pedagogic energies (the time we invest in the development of educational things) are invested in the production of technology-driven learning objects that have no real educational value, and that do not fully exploit the innovative developmental potentials, and the means to directly enhance teaching and learning that ELT can offer.

Image credit: No video sign by scalino on Flickr (CC BY-NC)

This post was originally published on the East Midlands Learning Technologists blog and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.

Rob Weale, ELT Project Officer, Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology (CELT), De Montfort University

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.


  • Terese Bird says:

    I agree that video of the lecturer herself doesn’t seem to add to the pedagogic value of a recorded lecture (unless of course there’s a demonstration or something). However, I was a bit surprised at the results of a survey we just did with our students to evaluate our lecture capture pilot project. We asked: how important is it for you to see video of what was demonstrated on the computer or visualiser? 74% replied “Somewhat important” or “Very important.” No surprises there. Then we asked: How important is it for you to see video of the lecturer? 34% replied somewhat or very important. OK it’s a minority, but I was surprised it was as high as that. I’m still thinking about what that means, especially since the vast majority of the students surveyed were campus-based students (a very small number were distance students, whom I might expect would wish to see the lecturer).
    One thing is for sure: to have a cameraperson film a video of the lecturer, then try to figure out how to make that big-filesize film available online somehow, is in my opinion too much resource for the 34%. With an automated lecture capture system that streams the resulting capture, it could be better accommodated, but still one needs to keep a critical eye on the situation.
    Terese Bird, University of Leicester

    • AJ Cann says:

      Asking students if they want shiny technology is a waste of time – they will say yes. Who wouldn’t? The question is, where’s the evidence that video recording improve learning over audio recordings. Student surveys? Show me some evidence.

      • Terese Bird says:

        To clarify, we asked the question: “How important is it for you to see video of the lecturer?” not as a theoretical “what would you like” question, but only to students who had been using the lecture capture recordings and in reference to one specific recording they had viewed/listened to. So it’s on the background of having already used the technology, and giving their conclusions after this use.

  • Peter Reed says:

    Interesting post, and comment from @tbirdcymru.
    I agree that the video of the speaker is irrelevant unless there’s a demonstration of some kind. I know I’ve shared this a few times on the ALT mailing list, etc, but responses to my student survey at Liverpool suggested students are happy with (or prefer) audio only i.e. screencasts of lectures. Info here –

    Lecture capture systems have to be easy to use, and manually recording lectures is not a sustainable or scalable option. Automation is key.


  • Paul Jinks says:

    It’s interesting to conjecture how DL pedagogy might influence f2f courses. Picking up on Terese’s point about DL students, I think that if students can see an academic presenting it does add to the experience of being part of a community. DL students probably expect quality video as part of the mix and faceless presentation isn’t going to cut it.

    We produce quite a lot of video presentations where an academic talks to camera, usually accompanied by a slideshow. Feedback from our students (small numbers so far) is that they really like this approach and, somewhat surprisingly, want more video.

    This isn’t the same as lecture capture, by the way, (they are shorter presentations, if they exceed 15 minutes we cut them, and are tailored to the course surrounding them). These are used as background/cues for activity and discussion.


  • Martin Hawksey says:

    I had an interesting chat with one of the Coursera researchers at a conference last year. They were running experiments to see if there were any measurable cognitive benefits from using video of slide presentation combined with a talking head. They were testing: talking head always on, intermittently on and no talking head at all (audio only). The experiments were run as A-B tests so a proportion of the cohort would experience only one of the configurations as part of the course. My recollection was that he said initial findings showed slides only with audio narration was measurably best in terms of cognition, which supports Rob’s advice.

    What I found more interesting was he said the experiment had to be abandoned before conclusion as the student cohort with no talking head started complaining on the forums about ‘where’s the professor’, breaking experimental conditions. So Rob’s advice of audio only may also be cognitively beneficial*

    *insert various caveats: expectations?, regionalisation?, subject discipline?, context? …

  • Paul Jinks says:

    Martin, I don’t suppose you have any details of the Coursera trial? I’m curious as to how they went about measuring cognitive benefits, what these were and what other factors might have been in play. A/B testing in MOOCs is one of the ways they can help move instructional design (or whatever you want to call it) forward. It’s a real shame if they abandoned the study without any publication.

    Putting the prof on screen is definitely more than a cognitive efficiency issue for DL learners and providers. When I was planning our course, one of the things I was told is that students ‘want to see the professor’. In other words, at least in part, this visual establishing of academic presence is a way to offset the perception of online education as in some way second rate.

    As we use Hangouts and webinars more, having fewer talking head videos in the mix could well make sense.

    This paper tentatively suggests that talking head videos outperform ‘Khan Style’ and book learning for Maths students.

  • B. Bell says:

    Does anyone have advice on what to use to create slideshows with voice-over? It would be nice to have an easy way to create them and post them. Putting audio to Powerpoint slides is easy, but where do you post the final result without file conversion? Is it easier to just record the screen?

    • Mark Glynn says:

      B.Bell I used camtasia which retailshould arthe €100 with an educational discount but Microsoft have a free plug in for powerpoint 2013 (currently in beta) that allows you record your powerpoints with the option of including you Web cam feed.

      You also have options of screencastomar and screen which are Web based tools

    • Mark Glynn says:

      B.Bell – The link to the powerpoint beta pluign is In summary it collates all of the file sources into one file and makes it easy to share with your students.

      Sorry for taking so long to come back to you on this

      Kind regards


  • I would also like to echo points raised above by Terese, Peter, Paul, and Martin.

    During my work at the Business School, Bournemouth University, we recorded short (5-15 minute) chunks of a ‘lecture’ for DL students. The recordings were made specifically for DL students but also made available for campus-based students. The subject was quite a dry one (contract law) but the style of recording and the person being recorded made it more interesting and ‘watchable’. The recording was an at-desk version of Echo360 (talking head) but in a staged room (well lit, quiet, shelves & books behind the speaker) that recorded video, audio, and slides.

    Publishing the recordings to Blackboard was easy – all students had video, audio, and slides but had the choice through Echo360 player to turn off video if they didn’t want it (or download MP3 or M4V files from Bb).

    DL students liked this because, as mentioned above, the video enabled them to feel part of the Uni experience and that the recording had been made specifically for them (even if then republished year after year). Campus students liked it as the contents were the same as the F2F lecture they also had, but in well defined chunks. Needless to say confidence, commitment, and student engagement to this DL course increased as a result (from student surveys) of the introduction of the recordings, as did general scores for the campus students, although not to the same level.

    I agree that the use of video isn’t always necessary, but I would always record it and not use it, than not record it and then find you did want it after all.

    David, University of Leicester.

  • Leo Havemann says:

    B. Bell, you are right that simply adding audio to Powerpoint results in a problematic ‘file collection’ rather than a single resource and this does not prove easy to deliver via the VLE. If your institution has a lecture capture tool such as Panopto or Echo360 this can be a straightforward option. But there are free screen capturing tools out that can capture audio as well as the screen.

  • John Merline says:

    B.Bell and others, for classrooms that are also using a wireless mic for teachers and/or students, you might have a look at the FrontRow Teacher Edition software that automates the capture of screen content/voice audio/media audio, titles the recording based on the schedule, and posts for student download. (Full disclosure: I work for the company that makes it so am obviously biased.)

    In any case, we’ve found that probably a bigger issue than whether or not to show the instructor is really who has the time to set up the equipment to record anything at all? (Hence the above tool.) As for the survey indicating high student preference for seeing the instructor, our experience suggests that it’s really a preference for having content generated by THEIR instructor rather than by someone they don’t know (e.g, Khan) — regardless of whether or not they can see the teacher or just hear him/her.

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